Congress Punts Once Again
Late last week Congress dealt with funding the federal government for fiscal year 2022, which began last October 1, in the way we have been predicting: they punted.
They managed to agree on a bill to keep funding the government but only until February 18 of next year. By that time, they will be into the fifth month of the fiscal year. But at least for now, there will be no government shutdown.
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Lowering Drug Prices Still Waits for Action in Senate
Now that the government will be open for a while, the Senate still has major issues to deal with and very little time to do it. However, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said in a letter to other Senators that the Senate still plans to vote on President Biden’s economic agenda, which includes the provision to lower drug prices, as well as legislation to address voting rights, the debt limit, and an annual defense authorization bill by Christmas.
We wish the Majority Leader well but to say he is being optimistic is an understatement. Congress must address the debt ceiling or the U.S. government will default on paying its bills, which could result in serious economic consequences.
In addition, the debt ceiling is the one issue that really does have a deadline, even if the exact date on which the government would default is not known. While far from desirable, the other issues could go into next year for action.
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Cuts in Medicare Payments to Providers to be Voted on
The House of Representatives may take up legislation this week that would prevent billions of dollars in cuts to Medicare payments to health care providers. Those cuts will take place next year unless Congress votes to stop them.
Medicare fee-for-service payments to doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers could be reduced by as much as $14.1 billion.
The cuts are looming because of mandatory reductions in spending passed by Congress several years ago as part of the Budget Control Act. The actions were meant to try and limit federal spending. However, Congress has voted in a bipartisan fashion to stop the cuts every year since the act went into effect.
The effect on Medicare users if the cuts take place is not clear, but it is not likely to be good. It is possible that some providers who now see Medicare patients may decline to continue to do so.
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Sen. Sanders Asks President to Reduce Medicare Premium Hike
According to Bloomberg News, “Sen. Bernie Sanders is asking the White House to cut back a big Medicare premium hike set to take effect in weeks and tied to a pricey Alzheimer's drug whose benefits have been widely questioned.”
We reported previously that about half of the large increase in the Medicare Part B premium is because Medicare wants to have the extra money on hand if it decides to cover the cost of the new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm. The maker of Aduhelm, Biogen, has listed the cost of the drug as $56,000 per year.
The Bloomberg report added, “If Biden agreed and found a way to do it, a planned January increase of $21.60 a month to Medicare's ‘Part B’ premium for outpatient care would be slashed closer to $10. The monthly premium for 2022 would drop from $170.10 to about $159.
“The jump of $21.60 a month is the biggest increase ever for Medicare premiums in dollar terms, although not percentage-wise. As recently as August, the Medicare Trustees’ report had projected a smaller increase of $10 from the current $148.50. Medicare said it had to boost the rate higher to set aside a contingency fund in case the program formally approves coverage for Aduhelm.”
Aduhelm is the first Alzheimer’s medication in nearly 20 years, although it does not cure the disease. The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug this year, but its decision was very controversial because it overrode its own outside advisers. Many experts say Aduhelm's benefit has not been clearly demonstrated. The Department of Veterans Affairs declined to list the medicine on its roster of approved drugs.
Medicare has begun a formal assessment to determine whether it should cover the drug, and a final decision is not likely until at least the spring.
TSCL has sent a letter to Sen. Sanders letting him know we support his effort on this issue.
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Hearing on Prescription Drug Pricing this Week
The Oversight and Reform Committee of the House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing this week to reveal findings in the panel’s three-year investigation into pharmaceutical pricing and business practices. The hearing will also look at the need for structural reforms for the industry.
We will report in future updates any significant findings that may be revealed by the study.
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As we continue dealing with the Covid 19 pandemic, TSCL remains constant in our fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. We’ve had to make some adjustments in the way we carry on our work, but we have not, and will not stop our work on your behalf.
For progress updates or for more information about these and other bills that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare programs, visit the our website at www.SeniorsLeague.org, follow TSCL on Twitter or Facebook.